Learning Simple

We love the word “simple.”

I hear it often from strength and conditioning colleagues when they talk about rep schemes or conditioning workouts. It is now becoming borderline bro-ish.

3×10….Simple.

5×5….Simple!

Tempo 200’s… Bro, the Simplest!

I sit back and listen — wondering if coaches actually understand simple? Or are they using “simple” because it takes the critical step of planning out of the equation?

I mean c’mon it’s just words and numbers on paper, and for some their time is better spent focusing on tight coaching shorts and yelling “man shit” in the weight room rather than teaching, studying, or creating a performance environment. They are the quintessential thieves of simple.

simple

The Path to Simple
In the beginning you steal, regurgitating words stolen out of your mentors mouths. Then hopefully somewhere between being average and complacent you decide to dig into the details — the complexities. This (Dazed and Complex) period marks the most frustrating along your path.

You feel as if there is no end.

Very few signs along the way signal the end of your research. Instead, two more roads branch off and dammit if it would not drive you insane if you didn’t travel both — and at the same time. No Robert Frost feel good “and I — I took the one less traveled” in S&C. You take both roads because you can’t stand the fact that there is another coach, say… in Iowa, who is constantly reading more than you.

Not only will this phase be the most frustrating it may also be the most inconsistent coaching you will do, for a couple of reasons:

  1. You will immerse yourself too deeply into study. Though this obsession is needed to devour information it will not allow you the clarity to connect the dots in real time. You can’t see the forest through the trees.
  2. You will lack patience. It’s during this time that you will be more apt to change things on the fly. You may be tempted to play with your shiny new toy. Whatever you are into, chances are you will want to incorporate it. Big Mistake.

Then randomly, after spending an unspecified amount of time banging your head against a wall trying to make a breakthrough, a small crack appears, the clouds lift, and the waters part. It’s in that moment it all makes sense. You can see known variables and hidden intangibles equally.

This is where “Artistically Simple” resides… where choices are made that make the training time most efficient. Where an athlete’s adaptive capacity and the work programed meet and are complementary — it looks simple. Like most things in life it’s all about timing.

It is at this moment you understand the Why, When, and How of “simple” — just as your mentors do. This only leads you to have more respect and understanding of their work.

I wish I could say the cycle one day come to an end — but it doesn’t. Instead, understanding in one field only leads you to possibilities in another and it all starts over.

I am always reminding myself and other coaches that time is our greatest ally. So what if you don’t completely understand the subject matter the first time you read it? Read it again. Then another book on the same subject. Sooner or later the complexities will fade away.
Be Patient.

There is no such thing as failure when you devote yourself to learning. The only failure is satisfaction in mimicry and stealing “simple”.

 

By: Aaron Davis

The Death of Superman

Growing up in Kansas it was just known that hard work was expected. I had to look no further than my Dad — 6 am out the door for his first job, 10:30 pm in the door from his third.

My initiation into this world started on day 1 of athletics — tee ball to be exact. My Dad and I arrived early to practice, which I would later find out was never by chance. It was always “suggested” that I run the fence line before my teammates arrived — it would make me tough.

This event was repeated frequently, practice after practice, sport after sport, year after year. Of course this was a huge hit with my teammates and I was razzed every year.

Escape from this was hard to find. My grandpa who grew up a farmer during the dust bowl and a former athlete himself would take me out on the country roads and have me sprint telephone pole to telephone pole. In between while I caught my breath I’d hear ‘good ole’ stories of him as a boy doing the same, racing the farm’s work horse along the fence line and how he ran 10 seconds flat for the 100y dash.

I loved running then, but I would be lying if I didn’t admit that winning was my mistress. The combination of hard work, running, and my lust for a good win is no more apparent than my first elementary school cross country race in the 4th grade which I won. Though as I crossed the finish line I was simultaneously balling my eyes out. My parents rushed over and asked

“What’s wrong?”

“It…hurts”

“Well why didn’t you slow down?”

“I wanted…to win”

Did I mention I love winning? This intrinsic and conditioned motivation was a blessing and a curse through much of my athletic career. I believed, as well as those close to me that more was always better — more miles, more intervals, more sprints equalled more wins. It was at this time, though short lived I felt invincible — as if I was Superman.

Yet, this approach lead me to two severe bouts of overtraining before I was 16, and pushed me to uncomfortably seek out a private coach to the chagrin of my high school coaches, but I knew I needed a coach that could hold me back rather than allow me to test the limits on a daily basis.

I was fortunate to find such a coach.

Coach Torres taught me that a workout should have a purpose, be challenging but not hard, to listen to my body, value slowing down before speeding up, and to harness the inner Superman for moments when it counted, not everyday on the country roads where the only person to beat was myself.

I believe all of us who are intrinsically motivated have felt like Superman. To get completely lost in the invincibility of our passion. To push ourselves towards the unbound imagination of greatness.

“No” simply will not suffice.

In fact, when we are in this Flow State feeling as if we are the “Man of Steel” himself, chaos seems to dissipate and all that remains is our laser focus towards the task.

A professor of psychology, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi has boiled down a list of 10 components of such States.

1. Clear goals: Expectations and rules are discernible and goals are attainable and align appropriately with one’s skill set and abilities. Moreover, the challenge level and skill level should both be high.

2. Concentration: A high degree of concentration on a limited field of attention.

3. A loss of the feeling of self-consciousness: The merging of action and awareness.

4. Distorted sense of time: One’s subjective experience of time is altered.

5. Direct and immediate feedback: Successes and failures are apparent, so behavior can be adjusted as needed.

6. Balance between ability level and challenge: The activity is neither too easy nor too difficult.

7. A sense of personal control over the situation.

8. The activity is intrinsically rewarding, so action is effortlessness.

9. A lack of awareness of bodily needs.

10. Absorption: narrowing of awareness down to the activity itself.

For an athlete you can’t ask for a better high. It is in this state that all great performances are born.

For a coach it’s the holy grail. Athletes willing to run through walls and if you have any sense about you — you will understand how to stoke the fire.

But the question remains for us coaches: Can you stoke the fire to burn too bright?

We believe that answer is a resounding YES.

Coaches can be an athletes Kryptonite. We have unfortunately seen this far too many times.

We work in an area of Austin known for their great football teams. We coach handfuls of athletes that go to various high schools and as private coaches we are bystanders to the ridiculous stories that are their strength and conditioning.

The damn thing is, the teams are still successful, which only feeds the blindness of the coaches. Too top it off every year athletes relocate to play for their teams, amassing an army of intrinsically motivated athletes. How could you lose?

But this is the machine. Coaches play to it. Friday Night Lights quotes fill the locker room, emotional tugs are directed towards “family” and the “band of brothers”.

This is nothing new — this has been on repeat for generations and you don’t have to widen your scope much to see this monetized in the fitness industry, where former athletes migrate to their newfound tribes and pseudo coaches preach health and fitness but don’t know what true Health is — even if a clean bill of it hit’em in the face.

In both cases the weapons of destruction used by these coaches are the athletes themselves.

They take the unbound imagination and exhaust it. They take the power of invincibility and with the help of father time turn it into weakness.

They see this as a mere playground — not a profession.

Killing the Superman within — their objective is complete, with the athlete alone picking up the pieces.

 

By: Aaron Davis

sad

 

-Walking Shadow 10 by Jason Ratliff

-Kotler, Steven. The Rise of Superman: Decoding the Science of Ultimate Human Performance (p. viii). New Harvest.

Just Because You Can, Doesn't Mean You Should.

This weekend I watched a 14 year old girl take on the last workout of the 2015 CrossFit Open.

She killed it.

Every onlooker I stood next to had something to say. Some envious of her opportunity — finding CrossFit so young. Others in awe of the youthful energy and determination.

As I listened to the comments I thought ‘this is such a slippery slope’.

They look at her and say “this is great for youth athletes!” and I totally understand that mindset – especially if contrasted to the backdrop of physical education provided by our schools, which I refer to as “Zombie Walking”.

Spending time at the public high school track midday coaching sprinters, I get the pleasure of witnessing “P.E.” class 5 days a week.

It is the adolescent version of the walking dead. 40+ kids shuffling their way around the track where soft drinks from Whataburger, donuts, and Chick-fil-a breakfast sandwiches all make an appearance. This is all under the supervision of not one teacher but 2 or 3 — standing at the finish line ‘shooting the shit’.

Of course when weighing the two options, Zombie Walking vs. CrossFit — CrossFit wins every time in my book. So I can understand why a 14 year old easily handling a CrossFit workout is deemed “good”. But let us not make the mistake that a single performance is a direct measure of health, or better yet, insight to the long term development of the athlete.

As I watched her move I saw common patterns we see in adult athletes that have been in the fire for some time; excessive extension of the low back, prominent humeral internal rotation, overdeveloped upper traps, elevated shoulders — noticeable downward rotation of the scap on the left, lack of upper rotation of the scap on the right, and as she bent over to pick up the bar (imagine a Toe Touch) the right superficial back line was overly developed than left.

Now the kicker is she is preparing for softball and volleyball.

We can argue what came first, the chicken or the egg, and I will admit we have seen baseball players with similar shoulder position and movement. Regardless of causation I would argue this not the appropriate path for long term development.

Theoretically, she has 7-8 years left of playing. If there’s one thing I have learned working with youth athletes it is you stick to the fundamentals and the majority of the time you are the little dutch boy with your finger in the dam. Not only are you getting them prepared for their sport but also practice.

Yes we are preparing them for practice.

We don’t know what their coaches will pull out of the hat. One day could be a 2 mile run because a couple kids were acting up, the next jumping activities holding weights in their hands (yes you read that right — Middle School, in fact).

Now add CrossFit style workouts on top with average to great coaching and you still won’t be setting the athlete up for success.

I am pointing a lot of fingers but college isn’t getting any cheaper. Their needs to be a shift to long term development with our youth athletes. If you have no clue what you are doing refer out. If you think Mobility Wod will save her, think again.

Coaches, it’s not about you. And it’s not about how well they perform now. It’s how well they perform years down the road when your name is not attached.

By: Aaron Davis

Weightlifting: 90 degree Squats & Muscle Slack

This week I got a chance to catch up with Thomas Lower of Lower Weightlifting. Our conversations in the past have always influenced my coaching and methodology on weightlifting and this meeting did not disappoint.

While we were talking about squat depth, lumbo-pelvic control, and injuries he rattled off a great quote from World Record holder IIya IIyin:

“Americans catch with ligaments, we catch with muscle”

“We” as in the rest of the world I take it.

Probably a gross simplification from Ilya, but in his defense if you travel around the U.S. visiting Crossfit gyms presenting seminars you are probably right in saying so.

Ah hell — maybe he is just right.

Kidding.

So we know the butt wink happens both in squats & the receiving position. I am not going to rehash that topic, it has been discussed ad nauseum on the web.

I am more curious about the repercussions of the butt wink if left unfixed (but please fix it). Specifically what’s happening to the elastic components of the muscles of the low back.

Muscle Slack?

The term muscle slack is stolen from a Dutch Coach/Biomechanist Frans Bosch. Simply it means the “time before you feel the elastic stretch”. If too much time passes (fractions of a sec. — but time nevertheless) before tension is created in a stretch — there is too much slack in the system. The rubberband never gets pulled back — no free energy.

An example of the elastic stretch happens during the first pull of a Snatch or Clean. As we move the knees back to vertical there should be an elastic stretch of the hamstrings — preloading them with elastic energy which will assist the second pull.

This stretch-reflex lessens the responsibility of the low back to generate force during the second pull. It’s our experience that women in particular struggle with this stretch-reflex of the hamstrings. Which is the cause of many low back problems.

The same problem can happen to the low back from the butt wink or loss of pelvic control. If pushed too far you can lose the ability to generate enough tension to support the back.

This is why we recommend adding squats to 90 degrees in the offseason. I should say its not just squatting to 90 degrees that counts but that fact we accentuate the eccentric and isometric portions of the lift.

“WTF — 90 degrees?”

Save your sticks and stones — and hear me out.

I have always viewed sprinters and weightlifters as sports cars. Speed + Control. A certain precision is needed in both sports. This is expected in specific movements, programing, and performance therapy.

So when I ask an athlete to squat to 90 or work on controlled isometrics I am asking the athlete to exhibit control, while simultaneously accomplishing my underlying objective which is taking up the muscle slack they created by free-wheeling to the bottom of their squat for the last bizzilion months (catching on ligaments = no control).

Of course as the program goes on we will inch our way back down “Ass To Grass” exhibiting control.

Ways to take up Muscle Slack:
– Plyometrics (weighted for experienced athletes < 30% of BW) - Iso/Eccentric Tempo Squats to 90 degrees - Iso/Eccentric Hamstring Exercises This isn’t something new but something I stole from reading Anatoliy Bondarchuk Olympic Manual for Size and Strength as well as dissecting “New School” Russian Weightlifting Programs. Fix the slack, improve efficiency, and don’t get injured! Simple. By: Aaron Davis

Biological Rhythms & Health

I write a lot on performance — and make no mistake, it’s what drives my learning and coaching.

But to understand performance I have found it better to understand health.

Health is the foundation that performance is built on. Regardless of what the general fitness gurus say, performance first is not a foolproof approach to health.

Our ‘health first’ approach means every one of our clients regardless of age (13-53 years) are continually being assessed structurally (Joint by Joint orthopedic assessments and daily movement screens) and in readiness (via the Omegawave).

Make no mistake about it… when it comes to the daily results of the assessments it’s either black or white in our approach. We don’t operate in the gray and say ‘lets kick the shit out of them and send up a prayer’ – that’s not what we do.

From a health perspective we use multiple assessments to build a baseline. This includes full Omegawave tests every time we see our clients for the first 2-3 months. If we see unfavorable trends we begin chipping away.

Let me pause here — if you feel Omegawave results are solely based on outcomes from  “Sets x Reps” protocols stop reading and find your way back to T-Nation.

We believe the utilization of the Omegawave is so much more than that. Realizing the brain is first to process all inputs only makes the long test much more valuable when assessing health (CNS, GEC, Detox, and Hormonal).

Just to be clear — we refer out on all matters of the heart. Though I haven’t found a cardiologist yet in Austin that views dysfunction in adaptation as being important.  Many of them end the evaluation saying “I don’t see what the problem is?” — Lets say our search for a forward thinking cardiologist in our network is still at large.

What we can improve is individualizing nutrition, exercise, and supplementation — but this is always second to improvements in stress management, breathing dysfunction, and movement.

In my mind — all efforts are made to regulate or keep an individual’s natural biological rhythm in place. These rhythms dictate metabolism, behavior, development, and health.

 

Biological Rhythms

As coaches we appreciate the most common biological rhythm — an athlete’s heart beat. We can gain insight via HRV, resting heart rate, or pulse during training.

But why stop there?

Could we not glean information from natural rhythms of body temperature, blood glucose, and cortisol?

We believe so.

Thats why I believe the flow of these natural rhythms are essential to health.

Example: experiencing jet lag is small disruption to our biological rhythms. Of course we can adapt and resynchronize from such a disturbance but if an overabundance of daily stress or a traumatic event disturbs the natural rhythms to a point where chronic alterations are made, deterioration of health is soon to follow.

One of the chronic symptoms of such alterations is disturbances in the sleep/wake cycle; bouts of insomnia, restless or erratic sleep are all symptoms.

I am sure to some level we all understand the importance of sleep but it wasn’t until I began my studies in immunology did I realize how closely connected our sleep was to our immune system.

In fact, sleep sets the rhythm of our immune system (starts the cycle from humoral immunity “antibody production”  to cell-mediated immunity “white blood cells”).

Without normal sleeping patterns our immune system’s rhythm becomes out of sync, suppressed, and unable to fight off attacks adequately.

If health is our objective then it should drive our decision making.

If an Owl-Type (Late to Bed – Late to Rise) is working out at 5:30am in the morning before work and is struggling with sleep, is that a smart decision? What’s more important sleep or a workout?

I vote sleep and search for other ways to be active throughout the day.

We have tested new clients in the morning after less than optimal sleep. Below is an example of a 6:00am CNS Test by a female (optimal ranges are 0-20 mV).

CNS

Do you really want to layer a new skill, strength training, or high intensity exercise on top of this?

It’s not always about the plan. The Plan. Periodization!  You can’t build performance on broken rhythms.

Start with health.

 

By: Aaron Davis

Understanding Seluyanov

Understanding Seluyanov

Its been 2 years since I first heard of Dr. Viktor Seluyanov’s research and training methods. I first stumbled upon them by way of Val Nasedkin via youtube. Since then I have been down the rabbit hole trying to learn as much as possible – even finding a tennis coach (Alex Nikiti) in Prague to translate and discus much of Seluyanov’s work — books and lectures (his contributions to my learning process have been invaluable).

This sounds silly but my motivation at the time was finding an intelligent way to train CrossFit athletes.  I was already on the path to the “Less is More” philosophy mainly brought on by reading the two volumes of Anatoliy Bondarchuk’s Transfer of Training in Sports and I saw Seluyanov’s methods as a practical approach for Competitive CrossFit athletes.

I know I lose my diehard Sports Performance colleagues once I reference CrossFit but bare with me and understand its all about knowing the processes that matter. Once you understand the broad strokes you can apply it to anything. We have experimented and have had success with Olympic Weightlifters, Youth Sports Performance Development, and Endurance athletes blending Seluyanov’s methods into our program design. So don’t worry its not just a CrossFit thing — and to be honest I am not a huge hit in the CrossFit world either from all of this. So lets call a truce and respect the fact that all is fair in Exercise Physiology and Biochemistry.

One of the main points with Seluyanov’s work is that training is not just for the muscles but all systems in the body (anatomy, histology, biochemistry, physiology, endocrine, immune, etc) — even going as far as creating a new field of scientific study called “Sports Adaptology”.

With Sports Adaptology he looks at the multiple systems and how it relates to adaptation of the muscle fibers. Seluyanov classifies muscle fibers in two categories — Oxidative and Glycolytic. In other words, muscle fibers that have mitochondria (slow twitch) to muscles that don’t and produce hydrogen Ions and lactate (fast twitch). In essence, if you want to build endurance you need to have as much mitochondria within all the muscle fibers as possible (Fast and Slow). This will limit the the production of hydrogen ions and lactate – limiting time to fatigue (Peripheral Fatigue). He also states that its not about lung volume but more about the muscles using oxygen efficiently.

The problem arises when training the specific fibers – oxidative and glycolytic fibers need separate training and certain environments to thrive. For example long metcons, matches, or races that induce high accumulation of hydrogen ions will kill mitochondria built around the fast twitch muscle fibers. Therefore every time an athletes participates in such an event the coach needs to address this in the training process — stimulating mitochondrial growth in the fast twitch fibers again before their next competition.

This is another point Seluyanov makes — there is no such thing as General Endurance, Speed Endurance, and Strength Endurance. Their is just the adaptation to the myofibrils of the sport’s specific muscle groups. If myofibrils multiply (Hyperplasia) or increase in size (Hypertrophy) they will increase force (or endurance through strength reserve). If instead they increase mitochondria within the myofibrils, they will increase endurance.

If we now look at the athlete under Seluyanov’s methods we need to assess:

  • Muscle Groups used in Sport (Speed/Endurance) 
  • Volume of Fast, Slow and Intermediate Fibers (Sports Specific)
  • Strength of the Fast, Slow and Intermediate Fibers
  • Mitochondria Density of Fast, Slow and Intermediate Fibers
  • Capillarization of Muscle Tissue (Sports Specific) 
  • Assess the Cardiovascular System

From there we can break the training down as follows… 

Hypertrophy of Fast Twitch (Glycolytic Fibers)

Needed for synthesis of Myofibrils 

  • Amino Acids, Free Creatine, Hormones, Hydrogen Ions  

Intensity of Contraction

  • 50-100%  (Fast)

Intensity of the Exercise

  • 10-100% (Heavy weights or Speed – Sprinting or Jumping)

Duration of Work 

  • Till Failure, 20-50 secs 
    • Barbell 6-12 reps
    • Sprinting 12-15 secs 
    • Jumping 10-20 contacts

Sets 

  • 3-9 for Developing Tissue
  • 1-3 for Maintaining Tissue

Rest b/t Sets

  • 5-10 mins Active Rest 

Weekly Workouts

  • 1-3 sets you can perform 4-7x Week
  • 3-9 sets = 1 x Week 
Increase Mitochondria in Fast Twitch (Glycolytic Fibers)

Needed for Synthesis of Myofibrils 

  • Active Cell, Amino Acids, Stress Hormones, Little to No Hydrogen Ions  

Intensity of Contraction

  • 50-100%  (Fast)

Intensity of the Exercise

  • 60-100% 

Duration of Work 

  • 3-50 secs 
    • Barbell 8-10 reps
    • Sprinting 3-5 secs 
    • Jumping 10-20 contacts
    • Throws 5-10 

Sets 

  • 10-30 for Developing 
  • 5-10 for Maintaining 

Rest b/t Sets 

  • 1-3 mins Rest 

Weekly Workouts

  • 1-2x Week Minimum 
  • 3-5x Week Optimal 
  • Can Perform 2x a day
Hypertrophy of Slow Twitch (Oxidative Fibers)

Needed for Synthesis of Myofibrils 

  • Amino Acids, Free Creatine, Hormones, Hydrogen Ions  

Intensity of Contraction 

  • Slow, no rapid movements. Create tension to increase hypoxia. 

Intensity of the Exercise 

  • 30-50%

Duration of Work 

  • Stato-dynamic, 30-50 secs 
    • Optimal 30:30  Work: Rest

Series 

  • Optimally used in series (Example 3x3x30:30) 

Sets

  • 4-9 for Developing 
  • 1-3 for Maintaining 

Rest b/t Sets 

  • 30-40 sec rest b/t sets 5-10 mins Active Rest b/t series  

Weekly Workouts 

  • 1-3 sets you can perform 2-4x Week
  • 4-9 1 x Week 
Hypertrophy of the Heart  (Eccentric/ L- Hypertrophy)

Intensity 

  • 120-150/bpm 

Duration

  • 2-10 Hours (Total) 

Weekly Workouts 

  • 2-7x Week 
Hypertrophy of the Heart (Concentric/ D- Hypertrophy) 

Intensity 

  • 180/BPM +  

Duration 

  • 60 secs to reach 180 + 30 secs of work in the HR range

Sets 

  • 10-40 sets 

Weekly Workouts

  • 1 x Week 
“Know, Think, Guess”

I will steal this line of thinking from Stuart McMillan — but like anything new we read or study we need to compartmentalize it in regards to the training program for our athletes.  

Many coaches read something new and make wholesale changes. This usually ends in disaster. Instead, stick with what you know (70%) – which has proven successful. Then apply what you think (20%), which will be aspects to hopefully enhance your program and lastly sprinkle in what you guess (10%) – this is usually aspects that can’t necessarily hurt but if works will pay off. 

The Know, Think, and Guess is filtered and sorted by reading and talking with knowledgeable coaches.  I don’t claim to be a genius as it pertains to exercise science, but I trust in experimenting, reading voraciously, and remembering commonalities.  

Simply, if I hear it often, I move it up the chain.  

Guess —> Think —-> Know     

As coaches we also need to think about all biomotor abilities and how they are affected by the training plan in it’s entirety. This is why many of Seluyanov’s methods haven’t been seen by our sprinters. I have not yet figured out how to incorporate it without negative effects to coordination or speed within the training process. This is also why we have to make adjustments when training our Olympic Weightlifters and limiting rep volumes in the full competition lifts while we hypertrophy fast twitch fibers within the squat.  

I suppose I write this last little bit as a caution to young coaches. I have been hesitant on writing about Seluyanov in detail, but I believe knowledge should be shared, and Seluyanov’s methods are intriguing — so experiment, research, and come up with your own conclusions. 

By: Aaron Davis